Simple joy.

A normal thing, in the midst of unprecedented events, can bring joy. In our district, we welcomed 6th and 7th graders back into our middle school this morning. Joy. Simple and pure joy.

Why? These kids haven’t been in a school building in nearly a year. The building into which they walked this morning is brand new. Never had a kid step in it until this morning. I saw normal, nervous middle school kids, asking, “Where do I go sir?”

I also saw teachers with tears in their eyes. The normal thing of a first day of school, after such a long time away, produced tears of joy. “I’m so happy to be back with kids!” Direct quote.

Of course we have had school online. Still do, and it’s so much better in delivery and instruction than it was when we started. But there is something special about having a kid right in front of you, albeit 6 feet away, behind a mask, that makes normal feel special.


The building wasn’t just new to the kids. We have teachers beginning careers in this new building, with this being the first time they’ve had kids in a classroom!

New teacher with kids in his classroom for the very first time!

All in all, a great morning. Simple, ‘normal’ things, bringing joy.

We’ll take it.

Words of Wisdom. And Breath Mints.

Check out these real words of wisdom, from real teachers, doing real work, with real kids, as kids return to class in our hybrid model! Big thanks to Kendra Danielson for assembling all of the great WOW (words of wisdom) and big thanks to Elaine Smith for all the wonderful pictures!

My personal favorites are about relationships first, go slow, and breath mints.

Yes, we have fun in class. Critical part of learning, relationships, and bonding.

Top Tips About PPE (My Own and Student PPE)

  • Mask change for mid-day (thinker mask)
  • Come up with a mask and social distance signal for easy reminders
  • Treat everyone you come in contact with as if they have COVID. This mindset helps you remember to keep that mask on and stay 6 feet away as much as possible.
  • Your nurses are a great resource for any questions or concerns you have. Use them!
  • Have extra masks on hand for students who forget or need one that fits appropriately 
  • To make sure your room is well ventilated and aired out when cleaning/sanitizing chemicals are used.
  • Make sure students home masks fit, if not switch them out with school PPE 
  • Have extra masks on hand for your own use (I wear a mask but did not wear one for an extended amount of time and needed to change it out after several hours).
  • Mints – I have mints on hand to help with the hot and gross breath from the mask – I use mints to keep it fresh all day!
  • Learn to talk in small bursts as it takes time to build up stamina to wear a mask, talk, and breathe. Often found myself a little short of breath the first days back in class.
  • Find ways to take “mask breaks” for both you and the students.
  • Have a convenient spot to keep your PPE.
  • If you are using a shield, get the glasses kind! They are comfy, easier to see through and don’t fog up.
One dapper kid!

My top 2 tips about cleaning/sanitizing/disinfecting my workspace….

  • hand washing/sanitizer
  • REALLY REALLY have students use their own supplies
  • If you are really nervous — change your shirt/clothes mid-day
  • Wipe down your personal space often and thoroughly, especially your cell phones.
  • Sanitizing wipes are extremely helpful 
  • Use the spray district gives you and the microfiber or better still paper towels.
  • Be careful with the wipes-some have bad scents and the smell lingers. 
  • Keep disinfecting spray/towels near your workspace and put a reminder note by your door.
  • Keep supplies handy and easily accessible as it serves as a visual reminder to clean. 
  • Have your disinfectant in an easy access spot. Create a routine.
Another dapper kid!

I wish that I would have known….. 

  • If something is bothering you (not enough cleaning, too much chemicals etc..speak out right away,) let your buildings safety team/custodians/adm. know. They can’t help you if you don’t speak out.
  • How wonderful it is to be around the kids again! There was a lot of angst about returning, and there still is anxiousness, but being around the kids is truly the bright spot in all of this. Just enjoy being with them.  
  • How energy draining it is to teach safety skills on top of everything else, however you get used to it and you also get used to wearing the PPE. Sometimes you forget you have it on!
This wonderful teacher is wearing a shark hat. Because he’s awesome.

I did this and it helped so much…. 

  • Extra patience with everyone… students, co-works, schedules, all humans.  BE KIND!!!! 
  • Help and encourage each other. Have grace as we work through this, there will be some challenges.
  • I took the time to build a relationship with each student.  
  • Asked for better scented wipes. Stopped the overzealous chemicals. It was definitely a problem-my assistants and I were all reacting to this.
  • Communicate to the custodial staff about cleaning. Our custodian is working hard to make sure everything is cleaned and wiped down. 
  • self-care, self-care, and self-care!
  • I keep my own soap and lotion with me at all times — it helps with the dry skin from frequent hand washing and feels a little like home.
  • I also narrowed down my learning objectives, we only get a few days with the kids, so maximize rebuilding positive relationships and the high priority learning objectives. In doing so, I am learning to give myself grace this year. We simply cannot do it all!   
  • Take it step by step. Don’t worry about everything that isn’t working, it will come, just plan a little differently each day.
  • Let the kids just look around for a couple of minutes without bugging them to work. They have never been in your room and need a chance to acclimate. Several kids in my room had to adjust to what they thought was true about the classroom that I have been Zooming from all year. They needed time to not be distracted by the “go go go” mentality that we all feel so they could feel safe and settled.   
Can you sense the learning happening here??!

Other advice…

  • Stay calm and keep your mask on!!!! 
  • Take things slow academically. Many of our students have experienced major traumas during the pandemic (parents losing jobs, family members sick, etc.) on top of the stress of the pandemic.
  • Put building relationships first. 
  • You are going to need hand lotion… lol
  • Prep your technology stuff before your school starts. Plug everything in and work out the bugs. New social distancing might affect your ordinary spot and if you check it out early – you will have time to request tech orders or equipment needed before in person instruction.
  • Embrace yet another change and use the motto, One day at a time. 

And then.

In 2020, and in the years before, I set and mostly met, a goal of writing a blogpost each week.

And then.

March of 2020 happened. Our schools, like all schools, went to a full remote learning model. Seemingly overnight, all that we knew, had been trained for, all our experience, learning, and insight, was reset to zero. All of us were first year teachers. Not just first year teachers, but first year teachers with the additional challenges of a pandemic.

And then.

I learned that educators have grit. I actually knew that before. But man. Grit. Capital G. Took the impossible, and through relentless passion and drive, lifted a centuries old education system online. Glitches? Problems? Mistakes? Sure. Insurmountable. Not even close. Teachers would’t let it happen.

And then.

Our district will be welcoming kindergarten kids back into schools tomorrow. These are kids that have had kindergarten through a screen, seeing, singing with, laughing with, and learning from, a gifted person through a screen.

One of our gifted educators, along with a gifted student, created a series of protocol videos that are too good not to share.

We’re ready. Nervous. Excited. It’s September in February. Starting school. And while our experience was reset to zero in March, it didn’t leave us. We’ll go deep rather than wide with our learning. One of the toughest challenges for our teachers, as it always is, remains the desire to do more.

Please colleagues. Go slow. Love on the kids. Build on the relationships you have started online. If it’s the choice between 5 more arithmetic problems or laughing/crying/singing with your kids, laugh, cry, and sing.

We got this.

5 Great Ways to Let Kids Know You Care About Them!

Talking with some teacher colleagues last week. Relationships with kids was the topic. How do we show kids that we truly care about them? Got me thinking. There are lots of ways. Here are 5.

  1. Always greet kids with a smile. Learned this from one of my favorite teachers. No matter what had been going on in the seconds before he greeted me, the moment he hit me with a big smile and a warm greeting, I knew he cared about me. This reminds me of the idea, “Kids will not long remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”

2. Always take the time and care to learn and pronounce kids’ names correctly. What the heck does it say to a kid when a teacher says, “Whew, that’s a tough one. I’m just going to call you Sam.” Yikes.

3. Go to kids’ events. Seeing a teacher in the stands, at events, means the world to a kid. You also get the bonus of being able to reference the event in number one above. “Man, you were on fire at your concert last night! You nailed that triangle solo!”

4. Apologize and be vulnerable when you know you’re wrong or have screwed up. Kids like teachers that are also human beings. “Ok guys, that was terrible. My fault. I’m sorry. Let’s take another run at that, and I’ll try to be better.” Do you know how much that means to kids?

5. Laugh with kids. Create memories and stories from their time with you in class. Former students, now full blast adults, love to stop me and tell stories from our classes.

Bonus item. Forgiveness > Punishment. Showing grace to a kid when he/she goofed up never, not once, came back to bite me. Deepens trust and respect. When it gets to the point where a kid can’t imagine going sideways in your class, you know that trust, respect, and relationships are rock solid in place. It takes work, but it’s fun work. Eventually you also gain the power of reputation. Don’t take that for granted, but it is nice to have.

5 off the top of my head. What are your 5?

Yeah, and?

Yesterday, during a window of time I try to set aside to read, I read this article. ‘Does Studying Student Data Really Raise Test Scores?’ Good article. Great quote, “Yet understanding students’ weaknesses is only useful if it changes practice. And, to date, evidence suggests that it does not change practice — or student outcomes. Focusing on the problem has likely distracted us from focusing on the solution.”

Again, good article, well researched, well written. With a conclusion that seems like it should floor one. Doing X didn’t change teacher practice.

This shouldn’t floor one.

Let me tell you about one teacher. In this case, she happens to be my wife. 31 years in the classroom. She now works with teachers and technology. She’s absolutely perfect in this role, for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is that she’s got the experience and expertise to ask, “Yeah, and?” If she isn’t convinced that doing X will result in something being better for kids…then good luck with that. Once she is convinced, then watch out. She’s convinced that kids using technology as a tool, not THE tool, is good for kids. Good for their learning, experiences, growth, and potential.

I saw a great line yesterday from a superintendent’s resume. We see in lots of superintendents’ words, the idea that when kids leave school districts, they are prepared for life, careers, etc. This superintendent used the phrase ‘opportunity ready’. That’s a cool phrase and idea. That’s an idea a professionally skeptical teacher, with an open and growing mind, can use in assessing X. Will doing X, allow kids to be opportunity ready as a result? I also like the goal of being opportunity ready…rather than squeezing out a few more points on a standardized test. Seems more healthy in all regards.

Those of us with the great opportunity to work directly with teachers need to throw, “Yeah, and?” into our own work as well. Everything doesn’t work with everybody. Too many priorities means no priorities.

In our district, we are focus on 3 foundational documents and ideas. One, district strategic goals. Two, our instructional framework. Three, collective teacher efficacy. All 3 of which provide rich answers to Yeah, and? The work is connecting these 3 documents and ideas to rich practice, including, sometimes, changing practice.

Regarding the article above. It’s a good thing for teachers to work together, study data, learn where kids are struggling, design learning opportunities for kids, implement those opportunities, review, reflect, enrich, support, and so on. And this work will help kids if the teachers are convinced it will help kids, and are willing to do that which is necessary to help kids, including changing some practice.

Yeah, and?

A blogpost about another blogpost.

Katie Martin recently tweeted out a link to this blogpost by Trevor Muir.

Stop what you’re doing and read this blog. Not mine, Trevor’s. Read it, especially if you are a parent.

I read this amazing post. All of my educator and parent bells started ringing. And actually not in that order. My dad bells were clanging away with great gusto. Trevor is talking about my kids. My own two children.

Two regrets or things I wish I had done differently with my kids when they were younger.

  1. Let them fail more. Get grit. Let them struggle more and get themselves back on their own feet. Life requires it. Both kids got done with college and looked around and kind of said, “Huh. Now what?” Everything had been programmed to go to the next step…except after college. They both have had to figure things out on their own. It’s very hard for this dad to not just try to solve all their problems. I still struggle with that.
  2. Collaboration, creativity, communication critical thinking. I don’t know if it’s bad form to wholesale quote another blogpost, so I apologize in advance. Here’s a chunk from Trevor’s writing and thinking that hammered me. “Young adults struggle with confidence. I wonder if having kids take roughly 112 mandatory high-stakes tests between kindergarten and senior year, tests that only measure a sliver of who you really are and what you’re really capable of, but are the deciding factor for your future, has anything to do with it. I wonder if that has anything to do with skyrocketing anxiety as well?” Wow. I wish I had noticed how little opportunity they had in school to do the essential/soft skills.

I will no longer refer to these skills as soft skills. They are essential. It also turns out, based on my own kids’ experiences, that the work force is dying for employees with these skills. Especially the work ethic one. My kids both have great work ethic. I assume they get that from their mother. They are now 27 and 25 and have great lives going on.

What are we doing in our schools to give kids the opportunity to live, learn, and grow these essential skills? I feel like we are in our district. I do love the challenge is this great line from Trevor, “People struggle to communicate? Well, have we taught them to communicate? Or are they sitting in rows most of the time, not being allowed to talk.”

Every so often a lightening bolt arrives via twitter or a blogpost. In this case it came from both.

Thank you Katie and Trevor.

Ten tips to be a successful principal, from one principal.

Being a principal is one of the best jobs in the world!

Been thinking a bit on a follow up to Ten tips for new teachers. Decided to think about 5 tips for successful principals. 5 gave way to 10 pretty darn quickly.

I spent 15 years as a building administrator, with 3 as a high school assistant principal, 1 of those years simultaneously being a junior high planning principal, and then 12 as a junior high principal. My tips come directly from my experience…and what I learned.

Here they are in no particular order!

  1. Always, and I mean always, look up from what you’re doing when somebody comes into your office. And genuinely attend. Eye contact, interest, enthusiasm, cheerful. I know it can be frustrating sometime to be interrupted, but you are a leader of people. Be available for people instantly.
  2. Appear to be everywhere, attending everything. Not always possible, but just like the power of a teacher attending kid events…same goes for the principal. We respect what we inspect. Your attendance at things speaks to that which you value. Be out and about as often as you can.

3. Try to never hit the gas on a decision, unless it’s a flat out emergency. I found the brake to be a much better pedal. Slow down. Think. Confer with trusted and experienced colleagues. Communicate. Ask questions before big decisions. Or little ones for that matter.

4. Love on your staff. Your staff loves on the kids. They are the people closest to the kids. Take care of them. I strongly suggest having chocolate in your office. It makes a nice reason for people to swing by when you’re in there. I made a point of being in my office early on Monday mornings. Very typical for staff members to swing by before school to share events and/or concerns from the weekend.

5. This one might not fit everybody, but I learned it from a great mentor principal and I believe it. Don’t stand in the spotlight. Let others, especially teachers, stand in the spotlight. You stand next to them and clap.

6. Rest. Relax. Unwind whenever you can. Being a principal is literally a 24/7 job. Phone calls come at all hours. And the 2 a.m. ones are usually horrible. Take good care of yourself.

7. Make it a goal to touch base with every teacher, everyday. Literally run through your school in your mind at the end of the day to see if you spoke with everyone. Not always possible, I get it, but a good goal.

8. Grow your assistant principals with ever increasing leadership roles and responsibilities. We don’t hire assistant principals to be assistant principals forever, we hire them to become principals. It is a principal’s professional responsibility to grow her/his assistant principals.

9. Know when it’s time to move on. Figure out what your professional and personal signals, symptoms, or inklings might be when it’s time for you to think about turning the reins over to someone else. Nothing is sadder than a principal who has run out of juice and can’t bring it everyday. Well maybe a teacher in that situation is close.

10. Always tell your school’s story as often and in as many ways as you can. If you don’t do it, who will?

11. I lied about ten. Just thought of a huge one that I can’t neglect, and I don’t want to delete any of the above. Number 11 tip for a successful principal is to continue to grow and learn. A real sign that it’s time to move on is when you think, “I know it all, seen it all, and can’t learn anything else. I’m full.” I speak from painful personal and professional experience.

We have great principals in our district. I’d LOVE to hear each of their ten tips to be a successful principal! I wonder what our teachers would list as ten tips for a successful principal? I wonder if there would be overlap? I wonder what our superintendent, deputy superintendent, and Director of HR might say? All were principals.

Let me go ask. Stand by please.

Don’t be that guy.

Last week I was chatting with my old buddy Kevin Johnson. Kevin is our Director of Technology and a gifted educator. Kevin and I have been in the education racket for almost 70 years combined. We were discussing a situation that comes up way too often out in the world. We’ll be talking with someone, and a sentence will begin with, “Kids these days…’. We about lose our minds. Well I do. Kevin is known for his calm demeanor. I am not.

Here’s KJ. Talking with a great kid. He’s very calm.

Here’s a sentence for you. Kids these days are great. They daily show grace and compassion towards others. Daily. They hold the door open for people. They say thank you. They shake your hand, while looking you in the eye. They’re enthusiastic and cheerful.

I’ve written on this subject before. As sure as the sun is going to rise, talks about the fact that every generation takes its turn lamenting the sorry state of the young people.

Don’t be that guy.

I was walking with a colleague who had retired some years before. A colleague who had worked in schools for 30+ years. He threw out the dread sentence. Kids these days. It was not pretty and I feel bad. Basically I challenged him to not be that guy. He knows better. Kids didn’t all of a sudden become horrible as soon as he retired.

Our students are Unified!

The kids that don’t make the news talks about the loving care students take of each other. Everyday. Those kids don’t make the news.

Kids help each other. Care about each other. Everyday.

One of my post-work goals is to never become that guy. Don’t rely on watching TV or reading the paper to think I know about kids these days. Should anyone catch me using the phrase…please deck me.

Thank you.

Our or my?

Pet peeve alert.

Principals, how do you refer to the school at which you work? Or the staff with whom you work?

My school or our school? My teachers or our teachers?

Teachers, how do you refer to your classroom? My classroom or our classroom?

We have a couple of good phrases in our district, and in our schools. For example, #togetherweRfife is our district’s main hashtag. The capital R stands for relationships. This idea is very ‘our’ vs. ‘my’. At our middle school, they talk a lot about “we’re all in this together”. We, together.

Working together in our classroom!

Do you have a reaction when a principal says, “I was working with my teachers at my school last week.”

I do. There seems something patriarchal, some big fat line between a principal and teachers with that statement. My teachers.

“Last week our amazing educators were working on mastery experiences in classrooms. We have learned that mastery experiences are the best way to develop a collective sense of efficacy. It was wonderful work that will have a huge impact on our kids.”

That sounds and feels better. At least it does to me.

Unlearn anything lately?

“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” (Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani)

SLMS students at a recent school board meeting

Thinking about our students and the world and time ahead for them. Revisited the great book by Spencer and Juiliani, with that awesome quote above. Reminds me of another idea. Teaching doesn’t automatically mean taught. Listening isn’t learning. And once learned…sometimes it needs to be unlearned and relearned. Communication and transportation, for example. Getting items from the store. Virtually anything, given the pace of change. What was learned 2o years ago…needs to be unlearned and relearned in many cases. I used to use the rotary phone to call my friend Greg every night to do our algebra homework. Kids now use Google Hangouts to virtually meet, share, discuss, and learn. In junior high, I used to use the payphone, with a quarter, to call my parents, let the phone ring twice, and hangup, so they would come pick me up from wrestling practice. Now…my kids text.

What have you unlearned and relearned lately? I bet more than you imagine!